Are Millennials the Lost Generation?

By Joseph Bentz

Millennials, the much-picked-on generation of young people from about 18 years old to their early 30s, are often referred to as the “Lost Generation.” A Washington Post opinion writer named Catherine Rampell summed up many of the stereotypes about this generation in an article she wrote (with “Lost Generation” in the headline) a couple years ago: “For years you’ve probably been reading about aimless, idle millennials hunkering down in their parents’ basements, filling their days with video games, Instagram and deep, longing gazes upon their shelf of participation trophies. Members of the Boomerang Generation simply haven’t been sufficiently motivated — or well-parented? — to get a damn job, spouse and apartment of their own already.”

The term “Lost Generation” is borrowed from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. I am teaching that novel right now in a literature course at Azusa Pacific University. The quote “You are all a lost generation” appears as an epigraph on the first page of the novel, and it is attributed to Gertrude Stein.

According to a story Stein told, the “lost generation” phrase came from a French garage mechanic who said he could not hire anyone between the ages of 22 and 30 because they were no good, spoiled, lacked respect, and drank too much. Does that sound like a familiar list of complaints about today’s “lost generation”? Never mind that the young ne’er-do-wells Stein and the garage owner were referring to had just won World War I. They were still “lost.”

When Hemingway’s novel came out, his publisher’s advertising team “pushed it as the tome encapsulating the voice of the ‘war generation too strongly dosed with reality . . . all illusions shattered, all reticences dissipated,’” according to scholar Lesley M.M. Blume.

Hemingway was not pleased with that marketing strategy. Defining an entire generation had not been his intention. His Lost Generation quote shares the page with another epigraph, a quote from Ecclesiastes, which begins, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. . . .The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. . . .”

He meant for the quotes to comment on one another. As Blume explains, Hemingway believed “Stein’s ‘lost generation’ remark was merely ‘bombast,’ and he had meant to lampoon its pomposity, not endorse it. . . .To Hemingway, the whole point of the book was that ‘the earth abideth forever.’ Wasn’t that obvious enough?”

When it comes to rejecting easy labels for an entire generation, I’m with Hemingway. I teach Millennials at APU and have done so ever since they came along. I don’t think they’re any more “lost” than any other generation I have taught. They do have their quirks. They don’t take notes in class as much as previous generations, for instance. They would rather take a picture of what I write on the whiteboard than copy it down on paper. They can’t write in cursive as well as previous generations, and some of them have trouble even reading it. They’d rather text than talk on the phone, and email strikes them as old-fashioned.

But lost? Only in the way that all generations are lost. The King James Bible that Hemingway was quoting from teaches that all human beings are lost in and in need of rescue by Jesus Christ. Hemingway was reluctant to follow the teaching all the way to redemption, but he did agree with the lost part. He simply didn’t think one generation was all that different from another.

I am skeptical of generational stereotypes or conclusions. In the more than 30 years that I have taught English, people have often asked, why can’t students write as well as they used to? But people have always said that. Gertrude Stein had trouble finding a good garage mechanic a hundred years ago, and it isn’t so easy today either. But let’s not blame any particular generation. “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.”

What Happens in College is Real

We recently completed another graduation at Azusa Pacific University, where I teach literature and writing. In the celebratory dinners and receptions with students and their family and friends leading up to the ceremony itself, there is always a lot of talk the students finally finishing college and entering the “real world.”

That’s what they call it. Real.

That implies, of course, that what they’ve been doing at the university for the previous four years or so is not real, an assumption I vigorously challenge.

The course I teach most often is a survey course called American Literature Since 1865. It is real. I can tell you from about 30 years of teaching this class—and the feedback I have received from students—that the reading the students do in the course brings moments of insight and inspiration that are as important as anything they will experience after college. I’m talking about times inside and outside of class when we get lost in the literature, caught up in the stories, challenged by the poetry, awakened intellectually and spiritually by the things that matter most. Not every day, of course, and not for every person at the same time. A class day that is life-changing for one student may leave another student cold.

But some moments are life-changing. I’ve known students who have changed their major to English based on one literature course they had signed up for simply to fulfill a General Education requirement.

In my American literature survey course, we cover about 50 authors over the course of a semester. Students delve into the gut-wrenching psychological journey of Edna Pontellier as she questions every assumption about her role and identity in life in Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening. We work our way through a very different kind of journey in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, as Huck wiggles out of one scrape after another while also trying to help his friend, the escaped slave Jim, reach freedom. We analyze the opposing perspectives and approaches toward race of  Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.

We spend time with the fascinating but dysfunctional families in Eugene O’Neill’s play Long Day’s Journey into Night and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We’re challenged and inspired by the poetry of T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings, Theodore Roethke, and Billy Collins. We marvel at the creative storytelling techniques of William Faulkner in his novel As I Lay Dying. We enter the worlds of a wide variety of American lives in the stories of John Updike, Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Rudolfo Anaya, and Amy Tan. As students read and consider the lives and ideas of others, they rethink their own relationships, challenges their own biases, and form a better understanding of the past. Sometimes become lifelong fans of authors they had previously never heard of.

None of that is real?

Only a job after graduation is real?

Our students do get jobs, too, by the way. Or they go to graduate school, or do missions trips, or pursue dreams in a variety of ways. I don’t diminish the importance of that, or of paying off the high cost of the college experience.

What I’m fighting is this perception that college is only preparation for life and is not life itself. The years you spend in college are real years, just like the years you spend in your thirties or any other time. Why reduce the college years to simply a time to endure so you can move on to “real life”? Why not relish every phase of life? I don’t know many people in their thirties, for example, who behave as if that time is mainly preparation for their seventies.

I’ve been focusing on one of my courses as an example of what’s real, but I could choose many others from my colleagues in English, and that’s only one department. Other fields are just as crucial, and not only for job preparation, but also for life—psychology, economics, theology, art, music, history, and others. And that’s just the curricular part of college. I haven’t touched on all the other elements of college life such as friendships, service, international study and travel, spiritual worship and development, and all the fun that college students also have.

Isn’t all that real?

Why Build a Monument to a Pest?

People build monuments to great leaders, war heroes, saints, and other admired figures, but why would anyone honor a pest in this way? In my new book, Nothing is Wasted, I explore the idea that in the midst of all the calamity, pain, and difficulty of life, God has planted hints of redemption throughout the universe in unexpected places.

One example I refer to in the first chapter is the Boll Weevil Monument in Enterprise, Alabama. Why did the people build it? The following excerpt from the book suggests the answer:

When a Destructive Insect Embodies Redemption

The boll weevil is an ugly little insect that loves cotton. Over the past hundred years, it has caused billions of dollars in dam­age to cotton crops in the United States and elsewhere. Numerous farmers across the decades have gone bankrupt because of this one pest. Scientists have used every means they can think of to try to eradicate it—pesticides, wasps, fungi, specially engineered anti-weevil cotton plants, and other methods. The fight against it continues to this day, and the eradication programs have been largely successful.

No one sheds a tear for the boll weevil. Just about everybody wants to kill it. So I was surprised when my friend Jim Davis, who lives in Alabama, a state that historically has been plagued with wee­vils, told me that a town named Enterprise, Alabama, has a boll wee­vil monument prominently displayed in the center of its downtown.

A monument to a destructive insect would be surprising in any town, but for Enterprise, Alabama, to honor such a creature seems especially strange, considering the destruction the boll weevil has wreaked on that town and the surrounding county. As the town’s historians report, in the early twentieth century, the boll weevil destroyed almost 60 percent of the county’s main crop of cotton, and farmers were at risk of utter ruin.1 Their failure would have meant devastation for the entire economy of that region.

The monument the town built to this pest in 1919 features a statue of a woman standing in Statue-of-Liberty-like robes, her arms held high above her head. In her hands, on top of a kind of pedestal, stands a large and ugly boll weevil. A flowing fountain surrounds this statue.

The farmers in Coffee County, Alabama, where Enterprise is located, were determined not to let the boll weevil defeat them. Instead, they turned its destructive behavior into an opportunity to diversify their crops and be more successful in the long run. If the crisis of the boll weevil had not forced the issue, they might never have made changes and would have missed out on the pros­perity the shift brought them. Peanuts in particular became an especially profitable crop for the region.

As the Enterprise history relates, “By 1917, Coffee County produced and harvested more peanuts than any other county in the nation. (In 1993, Coffee County ranked 4th in the state of Alabama with 128,000 acres planted in peanuts.)” The plaque that accompanies the monu­ment states, “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the herald of Prosperity this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.” The work of a pest was redeemed.

Read more in Nothing is Wasted: How God Redeems What is Broken (Beacon Hill Press, 2016).

Pretending to Be Moses: Why Writing Biblical Fiction is Hard

Who am I to take on the voice of Moses, or Joseph, or Joshua, or other people whose stories are told in the Bible?

That question was foremost in my mind when I was asked to write six chapters for an innovative small group curriculum series that brings to life significant figures from the Bible by telling their stories through a combination of historical fiction, biblical commentary, study questions, and audio and video segments.

The series, which is called Named, is divided into four six-week studies: The Patriarchs, The Unnamed, The Disciples and The Women. I was assigned to write chapters for Moses, Joseph, Joshua, Andrew, the Gadarene Demoniac, and the Man Born Blind.

Although I have written four novels, I had never written biblical fiction and had never given much thought to some challenges of that genre:

• The Bible gives stories of these people in a compact, efficient way that leaves out many details. Even with a major figure like Moses, only a few highlights of his life are given, with entire decades left out. For the more obscure biblical figures, such as the Man Born Blind, even fewer details are given, including his name.  As a Christian I believe these people in the Bible are not just stories someone made up, but they were real people. How could I bring these people to life but also be true to Scripture? I had to add details of plot, dialogue, motivation, setting and so on. I faced the challenge of making the stories engaging but also keeping them true not only to the history of the period but also to the spiritual message of the story.

• I had a limit of about 1,500 words for each story. For major figures like Joshua or Moses, that meant I could present only one scene out of many presented in the Bible. How could I choose the one that best captured essence of who each person was?

My approach was to carefully research the various figures through their biblical accounts, commentaries, and books about the historical periods. After that, the stories emerged pretty much the way my novels emerge: I began to see the scenes play out in my head, like little movie clips. As I read about these men, they came to life for me. As I wrote, and even as I went about my daily life, the movies in my head became more and more vivid, until I was able to live the story and “hear” the voice of the person telling it.

I wrote far beyond the word limit for every person, and then I had to relentlessly cut until I got at least close to the proper word count. It was a true privilege to be allowed to delve into the lives of these men and tell their stories. Small groups are now using this material as a way to study Scripture. More information about this series is available at www.iamnamed.com.

Here is an excerpt from one of my stories, “The Man Born Blind”:

The Man Born Blind

I had heard rumors about Jesus, none of them good. I heard the authorities almost stoned him for blasphemy, but he slipped away. He was dangerous. He was espousing all kinds of radical ideas. Some even claimed he was of the devil.

Even before I met him, I was skeptical of those malicious stories. I was more inclined toward the rumors that people had the courage only to whisper, like maybe he was a prophet, maybe even the Messiah. He did miracles, healing people and freeing people from demons. As a blind man, I was attentive to anything that even hinted at healing. Nothing I had ever tried had worked, but I still fantasized what it must be like to see.

Most of the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities didn’t like Jesus, and all but the bravest people were afraid to cross those powerful men and give Jesus a chance. I didn’t like the Pharisees, and they certainly had no use for me, a man blind from birth, which to them meant only one thing: I was steeped in sin. So be it. I stayed away from them, and I stayed away from Jesus. If any of them wanted to give me a few coins, I would be grateful. Otherwise, they were not my problem.

Then came the day when I could no longer avoid Jesus or the Pharisees. As I sat begging in my usual filthy spot by a wall along a busy road close to the temple, Jesus walked right up to me. I don’t know why he stopped and focused on me. Most people ignored me. And Jesus certainly had plenty of other things vying for his attention. I heard a big crowd pushing in all around him. I expected the whole big group to pass me by pretty quickly. I hoped only for a coin or two from some of them.

Instead, Jesus stopped, and so did everybody else. I didn’t welcome the attention. When any powerful person paid attention to me, it usually meant trouble. They usually yelled at me to get out of the way or move along to a different spot.

Jesus didn’t say anything at first, but then one of his disciples, who was probably also confused about why they had suddenly stopped to stare at a blind man, asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

That seemed like rather a rude question, considering that I was sitting right there, but it was nothing compared to other things people sometimes said. They often talked about me as if I weren’t there, as if being blind meant I must be deaf, or at least not very bright.

I expected Jesus to agree with their idea about sin causing my blindness. I’ve been hearing that all my life. Instead, he gave an answer that I loved. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Ha! I wanted to shout. Finally, somebody not blaming me for being blind. I was ready to stand up and cheer him right then! Everybody was talking over everybody else in response to what he said, so nobody bothered to ask me what I thought. And honestly, in my own mind I couldn’t get past “neither this man nor his parents sinned.” I had no idea what he meant by my blindness happening so that the work of God could be displayed or the part about his being the light of the world.

Before I could think through any of that, he leaned down right in front of me. He spat in the dirt right there by the road and made little globs of mud out of it. Then he reached up and spread it over my eyes. Did he really mean to heal me? Did he have the power?

I hoped that his next words would be, “Now open your eyes and see,” but instead he told me…

The rest of this story is contained in the book, The Unnamed, one of four books in the Named series, available at www.iamnamed.com.

Poetry and Conversation with Katie Manning

Most poets are thrilled when one of their books of poems is published, but Katie Manning, an outstanding poet who also teaches in the English Department at Azusa Pacific University, gets to experience that joy three times this year, as three of her chapbooks are being published by three different publishers. This success did not come easily. She has been sending out manuscripts for more than five years, so it is a happy coincidence that all three books are now coming out within months of each other. To celebrate these publications and to introduce readers to Katie Manning’s poetry, I am happy to interview her for the Life of the Mind and Soul.

1. Congratulations, Katie, on your poetry chapbooks that are being published this year. I have read some of your poems and have appreciated not only their depth, but also their warmth. I would like to start with The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman, published by Point Loma Press, through Wipf and Stock Publishers. This book follows the unnamed bleeding woman from three of the gospel accounts in the Bible. You give her a name and let her tell her own story. Why did you choose this particular story for your book?

Thank you for taking the time to read my poems, and thank you for your very kind words. I have been curious about the bleeding woman since I was a little girl. What was her name? Why was she bleeding? What was her life like when she was ritually unclean for 12 years? What was her life like after she was healed? Her story is so brief. It is really just a quick aside; in all three accounts, Jesus is on his way to heal a synagogue leader’s daughter. The bleeding woman interrupts Jesus. She reaches out and touches him when she shouldn’t, and she’s rewarded for having faith. The more I thought about her, the more I became fascinated by the idea that reaching out in a final act of desperation can be a demonstration of faith.

2. How challenging was it to enter into a woman’s story when so few details about her are given in the Bible? Did that lack of detail give you more freedom to shape the story the way you wanted to, or did it make your job as a poet more difficult?

Although it was initially difficult to imagine a life for this woman, I think the lack of detail ultimately gave me more creative freedom. I read commentaries of all sorts to give me a better grounding in the possibilities of her life, but then I set those things aside and wrote freely. Many commentaries talk about the bleeding woman as though she was elderly, but I enjoyed imagining her as a young woman who had begun bleeding in early adolescence and never stopped. This choice was partially because of the way Jesus calls her “daughter,” which has always sounded to me like she is younger and somewhat identified with the girl whom Jesus is traveling to see, and partially because I was writing this in my mid-twenties and felt closely connected to her. I also felt free to get very, very strange after her healing and let her travel outside of her original time and place.

3. Could you give us a sample poem from this book and tell us a little about it?

The final poem in this collection is one of my very favorites. (Is it okay to pick a favorite poem? Is that like picking a favorite child?) The bleeding woman, who I’ve named Nura (“light”), ends up eating lunch with Jesus at a café in present day New York City. While I was completing this chapbook, I read Quarantine, a disturbing and beautiful book of poetry by Brian Henry, and I echo a couple of his lines in the title and text of my poem.

Where Death Is Not an Is
          after Brian Henry

I met Jesus the next day
at the Life Café. “Call me
J now,” he said. “People
lock me up when I say

I am God.” He pulled
back his sleeves to show
the marks on his arms
from recent shots. I asked

what I could do. “Just lie
low,” he said between
bites of falafel. ”Dead
is the way the world wants

us. People hate to feel
alive.” We ate in silence
for a while. Then I asked,
“What happens to us?”

He wiped his young hands
and stood to leave. “We are
finished,” and kissed my cheek.
I put my hand on his arm

and told him the scars would be
beautiful when they healed.

 

4. Where can readers find this book?

The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman is now available on Amazon and through Wipf and Stock.

5. You also have two other books coming out this year. Tea with Ezra is published by Boneset Books and I Awake in My Womb is forthcoming from Yellow Flag Press. How can readers order these books?

I Awake in My Womb is available for pre-order from Yellow Flag Press. The first edition is due out in August, and the second edition will follow immediately.

Tea with Ezra was published in a limited edition by a brand new micro-press, and it was done with a hand-sewn binding. The book itself is a lovely piece of handmade art. It sold out in pre-order, but Boneset Books is planning to do a second edition in the future.

6. I love your poems about motherhood. Could you give us a sample from Awake in My Womb?

I’m glad you enjoy them! These poems are based directly on vivid dreams that I had
immediately before, during, and after pregnancy. They are some mix of funny, terrifying, and revealing; they give readers a surreal glimpse into the fear and wonder of impending motherhood. The following poem’s first line became the collection title.
The Outside In
I awake in my womb.
I’m cradling you
so gently, so
as not to break
your see-through skin.
You are half
head, half
body. Your eyes are sealed
shut, but through the cloudy dark
your heart blinks
visibly. I wonder
if it loves me yet.
I hold you close to my face
with both hands
(though you’re smaller than one)
and watch.
We breathe fluid together.
I press
my ear to your chest.
Your heart gallops away.

7. I am intrigued by the title of your book, Tea with Ezra. What does that title refer to? Could you share a poem from that book?

This chapbook contains poems that respond to familiar texts: fairy tales, biblical narratives, poems, songs, novels, etc. The title of the collection is taken from the final poem. Ezra Pound has a poem called “The Tea Shop,” in which he observes that a waitress is not as pretty as she used to be, and he repeats twice that “she also will turn middle-aged.” I felt immediately angry the first time I read this poem because of Pound’s objectification of the waitress. I like to express my anger through humor, so I wrote a parody of his poem. In my poem, I have tea with Ezra Pound, and I am critical of his appearance and his work. When he tells me that I’ll also turn middle-aged, I take my revenge.

Tea with Ezra

                  after Pound’s “The Tea Shop”

He told me that only he and Whitman
had gained immortality,
and he took a bite of his lemon pound cake.
I reminded him that he’d already been dead
thirty years. I tried not to stare through
his decaying jaw at the jostled pastry.
He looked me up and down and said,
“Yes, you also will turn middle-aged.”
I simply shut his book
and drank his tea when I’d finished mine.

 

8. Thank you for giving us a look at your poetry. If readers would like to find out more about you and your poetry, do you have a website or Facebook page they can follow?

I do have a website and an author page on Facebook.

Thanks for your interest in my poetry!

What Sherlock Holmes Taught Me About Jesus

Who is Jesus?

That is the question we discussed recently in a class I teach at my church. If he were conducting his earthly ministry among us today, what identity would he adopt? Would he be a liberal Democrat? A conservative Republican? Would he like the music I like? Who would his favorite authors be? What movies would he watch? Would the TV shows that annoy me annoy him too?

Our group was studying the book of Colossians. It is a letter Paul wrote to a church he had not established personally. He was thrilled that they were followers of Christ, but they had some misconceptions about Jesus’ identity that he wanted to correct.

What he says about Jesus contains no big surprises for us today, but in those early days of Christianity, many false ideas about Jesus were floating around. Paul wanted to be sure they were following the real Jesus. I want to follow the real Jesus too.

Who is the Real Sherlock Holmes?

Which brings me to Sherlock Holmes.

I enjoy reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about this great detective, so a few years ago I bought an acclaimed edition of much of the Sherlock Holmes canon that had just been published, a two-volume boxed set that boasts 56 short stories, more than 700 illustrations and more than 1,000 annotations.

The editor of those volumes, Leslie Klinger, includes an essay called “The World of Sherlock Holmes,” in which he documents the popularity of this fictional character and the intensity with which his fans follow him. Sherlock Holmes is one of the top three most well-known fictional characters in the world (along with Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus). The character has spawned more than 2,000 imitative stories from writers and filmmakers across the world.

Thousands of articles and books have been written about Sherlock Holmes across the years, and Klinger writes that the topics of analysis seem endless. There are classic issues, such as Watson’s wounds and marriages, Holmes’s Great Hiatus, and so on, and writers have also ventured into more unexpected areas.

As Klinger explains, people often want to impose their own interests onto Sherlock Holmes. He explains, “Such a formula follows the logic, ‘I am interested in the study of X. I am interested in the study of Sherlock Holmes. Therefore, Sherlock Holmes must have been interested in X.”

What kind of speculation has that approach led to? Klinger writes, “Scholarly works have demonstrated that Holmes was a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a druid, an agnostic, a Catholic, a Stoic, a deist, an atheist; that Holmes studied medicine, law, music, graphology, phrenology, early computer science, astronomy, numerology, and endless other subjects; that Holmes travelled to Russia, China, India, Tibet, the South Seas, America, Canada, Japan; that Holmes was an American (a thesis asserted by no less than Franklin Delano Roosevelt), a Canadian, a Frenchman.”

Making Jesus in Our Own Image?

That makes me wonder, is that what Christians too often do with Jesus? Are too many of us following a Jesus made in our own image—a Jesus on whom we imprint our own interests and prejudices and quirks—rather than following the real Jesus of Scripture?

Have we made him what we want him to be, which is often a person like us, only a little better? If so, how can we abandon that false Jesus and follow the true one? I don’t know an easy answer. I think we always have to be alert to the possibility of our own misconceptions. Immersing ourselves in Scripture and in prayer, challenging our own assumptions, and testing out our ideas about him with other believers may help us stay close to the real Jesus.

When God Answers Your Prayers: Interview with Karen O’Connor

This week I am happy to host an interview with my friend and fellow writer, Karen O’Connor. Her newest book is When God Answers Your Prayers: Inspiring Stories of How God Comes Through in the Nick of Time. I had the privilege of contributing two of my own answers to prayer for this book. Karen wrote about my stories in the chapters called “Dream Job” and “Wanted: Your Book.” The book is encouraging and enjoyable. I highly recommend it!

Book Giveaway

Karen is giving away two copies of When God Answers Your Prayers. To enter the drawing for a book, just leave a comment at the end of this post. The deadline is Saturday, April 6.

Interview with Karen O’Connor

1. Congratulations on your new book! What is one thing you hope readers will take away from When God Answers Your Prayers?

I hope readers will hang in there with God—even when waiting for his answer can be agonizing. God does some through—in his time and in his way for the good of all concerned. I learned that the hard way!

2. There are many books on prayer, but your subtitle, “Inspiring Stories of How God Comes Through in the Nick of Time,” gives a hint of what sets your book apart. Can you tell us more about the “nick of time” aspect of your book?

Yes, I have a good example of that. My husband and I planned a move from Southern California to Central Coast California to be closer to our youngest daughter and her family. We bought a new home in a quiet new neighborhood, expecting to sell our beautiful condo by the San Diego Bay in a matter of weeks. The sale did not happen in a few weeks or

Karen O'Connor

even in a few months. We came to the point of facing two mortgages. Then when it appeared we’d soon exhaust our financial reserve, my husband’s daughter bid on the condo and purchased it. Escrow closed ‘in the nick of time’ before we ran out of money. I later realized that when I pray it’s not always just about me and what I want. Other people and other circumstances are involved—as was the case with the sale of our home in San Diego. But God did come through—as he always does––and then my prayers turned to praise.

3. When God Answers Your Prayers is based on stories from many different people. How many people contributed stories to your book? As a writer, is it hard to handle so many contributors?

The book includes thirty stories from other people, (including two of yours, Joe!), some of my own, and some from the Bible. I invited people to answer a set of questions—and provided them with sample responses so they would stay on track. Most of the folks are not writers so this method made it easy for them and for me. I then wrote up the individual stories based on answers to my questions. I found the process pretty seamless, though it took several months to finish the book.

4. Your book focuses on answers to prayer, but what would you say to readers who are disappointed that God has not answered their prayers?

Great question. I tend to believe that God always answers prayers in some way—although we may not see the outcome as an answer—at least right away. For example, my first husband and I divorced after twenty years of marriage. I was devastated and cried out to God again and again over many years. But still my husband left for another woman and they are still together. I felt God had left me in the ditch! But he didn’t. God used that experience to ‘clean my spiritual house,’ to draw me to Christ in a personal relationship, and to show me how I had made my husband a ‘god’ in my life. Then after a season of healing, I met my current husband and we’ve established a new home together with Jesus as the head. I consider all this an answer to prayer—over time but in the nick of time too!

5. How did this book change your own prayer life?

I’m now at peace when I pray. I give my situation over to God and let go of it. That doesn’t mean I’m never anxious or concerned. I’m human. But I now pray from a place of trust, knowing God will bring about the outcome that is best for me. He never disappoints.

6. Are there one or two stories that stand out to you as particularly memorable examples of answers to prayer?

YES! Your story (“Dream Job”) of how you got your professorship at APU is one of them. What a suspenseful time that was for you. Another that captured my heart is “Split-Second Grace,” a true story of how God saved a baby’s life in the nick of time.

7. You always seem to be working on at least one book, if not more. What is next for you?

My next book will be published in 2014 from Harvest House. Lord, How Did I Get This Old So Soon? A Woman Talks to God About Growing Older. This is a book of conversational prayers to God about the issues we all face as we age. My editor told me it is her favorite of all my books. Nice to hear. I also have a fun book coming out later this year: God Bless My Senior Moments—short, sentence-long prayers about the funny things we do when we hit the senior age group–and I’m not talking about seniors in college!

8. Where can readers go to find out more about you and your books?

I invite readers to visit my website: www.karenoconnor.com where they will find a list of my books and links for ordering them, and to sign up for my weekly blog and quarterly newsletter, if they wish.

Thanks, Joe, for featuring me on your blog. I really appreciate your support.

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

Our guest blogger this week is Jim Davis, author of the upcoming book, Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question). I met Jim earlier this year at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. He was part of a wonderful group of writers who took part in a practicum I taught there, and he was working on a book about suffering. After the conference, he was offered a contract for the book, which will be published next year. On his blog, http://tavbiblestudies.wordpress.com/, Jim is described as “a Sunday school teacher, husband, dad, attorney, college football fan, blues music devotee, and frequent Food Network viewer who writes and teaches Bible studies. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with Sonya, his wife of 21 years, and his 13-year-old son Tully.” I asked him to tell how his book came about, and I am honored to post his response.

When Life is Unfair, Can I Know God is Good?

by Jim Davis

A member of the Bible Study class I co-teach entered a hospice program this week. Clay, 39, fought cancer for years. Now the doctors say that medicine has no more to offer.

What do I say to Clay and his family? When life seems so unfair, can I know that God is good? And if I don’t know that, how can I get up in front of the class on Sundays and tell them that His Word is worth studying?

Today I am confident in what I believe, even without all the answers, but that wasn’t true when I first started teaching. Situations like Clay’s challenged my faith. Like millions before me, I wanted to come to terms with suffering and God’s goodness. I started with two questions that I wrote down one evening after a funeral that featured the saddest, tiniest white casket I had ever seen: Why this person and not someone else? And if God loves the hurting person, why doesn’t He fix the problem? I didn’t know, so I wrote a book.

I did not begin with the goal of writing a book. There was just something I did not understand that I wanted to understand, so I read and researched and prayed and thought until I learned what I could and was at peace with what I didn’t know. I decided to write down what I had learned and come to believe. My book is the result of the study I began after the long-ago funeral for a friend’s baby.

In the book, I argue that our typical questions about suffering (such as my original two) are not helpful, are not answerable, and have little foundation in Scripture; however, there are other questions we should focus on that point to God and can help us grow during a storm.

That is not at all what I set out to prove. I started out simply looking for answers to my two questions. I found a little helpful information in my initial research, and many unproven theories, but it became clear to me that God does not Continue reading

Some Thoughts on That Planet Made of Diamond

Imagine a planet made of diamond.

Photo by Haven Giguere. Artist's rendition of the diamond planet.

It exists.

According to National Geographic, this planet, which has been given the unimaginative name “55 Cancri e,” is twice the size of earth but has eight times its mass. At least a third of the planet is composed of pure diamond.

I am endlessly fascinated by astronomy and the discoveries that are being made about the universe. I love to read about the vastness of space, the variety and mind-boggling number of planets, galaxies, moons, suns and objects that are out there. In my recent book, Pieces of Heaven: Recognizing the Presence of God, I write about the discovery last year of the most massive and distant clouds of water ever found in the universe. The National Geographic article reporting on that discovery says the giant cloud of mist weighs forty billion times the mass of earth. The water in this cloud is enough to fill all the oceans on earth 140 trillion times.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just skim over facts like that. They stop me. I have to let my imagination play with what such an enormous body of water would look like and how it could possibly even exist. Or when I read that a diamond planet is floating out there in space, I wonder how—and why—could that be true. It pushes my mind to the Creator of such a universe. Why would God put a diamond planet out there? Why would he create that vast space-cloud of water? For fun? Just because he can? For variety? What, if anything, will he ever do with that planet or that water?

I know that these amazing astronomical facts don’t “prove” the existence Continue reading

“Desperate for Hope” Probes Life’s Most Difficult Questions

Bruce W. Martin’s new book, Desperate for Hope: Hanging on and Finding God During Life’s Hardest Times, is about suffering. It is direct, honest, thought-provoking, and moving. He has done his homework to create a book that analyzes the issue from a Christian perspective with theological rigor, but his tone is not academic or philosophical. It is personal. Throughout the book he refers just as often to his own “perfect storm” of catastrophes as he does to examples from the Bible or from the lives of others. He does not shy away even from the suffering that he brought about in his own life and that of his family. I have read plenty of books on this topic, but I highly recommend this one for its forthright treatment of a difficult issue.

Here are some of the elements of Martin’s own “perfect storm” that hit in 2002: “Out of work, I hadn’t received a paycheck for sixteen of the previous twenty-four months. We had just moved back to Huntsville, Alabama, from Denver, Colorado, after a colossal failure at church-planting. Drowning in a sea of credit card debt, we lived about thirty days from bankruptcy. To top it all off, my wife and I both suffered from near-clinical depression.” Martin’s deepest pain during that period, however, came when his daughter Zoe, whom he and his wife were adopting and whom they had raised for ten months, was taken away from them when Continue reading